The tangled web

In which I find myself unironically missing old, hard-copy Yellow Pages.

I came into the possession of a vintage sport coat which was in excellent condition except for several strata of dust on the shoulders, from hanging unused but uncovered for decades. The care instructions say dry clean only, so I went looking for a dry cleaner. The internet suggested there were several near me. On further examination, however, one was shuttered up. Another had remodeled and become just a regular laundromat.

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Listening habits

I posted recently on Mastodon that, when I hear new material by a musician I like, I often have to give it a second listen before I can tell what I think about it. Good or bad, it lacks the familiar and nostalgic contours of their old stuff.

For music that doesn’t command an antecedent commitment, I probably won’t push through and listen enough to acquire an appreciation for it. I only listened to Taylor Swift enough to have opinions because I was thinking about her project of recording. And I only listened all the way through the new Beyoncé album because I was thinking about genre.1

Lots of things bounce off because I only give them half a listen. That’s always been true to an extent, but moreso these days. Being able to stream almost everything has the up side that I can make a deep dive into anything. But the down side of that same availability is that anything new-to-me has to compete for my attention against literally everything else. There is not even the inertia of changing the channel or swapping out the disc.


Via Daily Beast and Daily Nous: The administration at Boston University has made a number of tone-deaf suggestions for how faculty can juggle students while their graduate student TAs are on strike. Among these: “Engage generative AI tools to give feedback or facilitate ‘discussion’ on readings or assignments.”

Last year, I wrote that “there will be people who lose their jobs because of generative algorithms. This won’t be because they can be replaced, but instead because of rapacious capitalism. To put it in plainer terms, because their management is a bunch of dicks.”

Dots. Connected.

👍: 💀&🎸

Two capsule reviews of things I’ve enjoyed recently.

🕴️💀 Lockwood & Co., streaming on Netflix: It’s YA fiction about magic kids, but the dark magic is pretty dark. Thematically, Harry Potter meets Arkham Horror.1 The actors all have screen presence, and the characters nicely developed.

It’s already cancelled, but the existing season tells a satisfying story and reaches a sensible (albeit not total) conclusion. I haven’t read the books, and so my thumbs up is just for the show.

🎸🛡️ Invincible Shield, the new album from Judas Priest. Listened on the recommendation of my brother. It rocks unequivocally, without any discounting for the fact that frontman Rob Halford is 72.

Whence genre?

At the Guardian, Rhiannon Giddens denounces gate-keeping around country music which snipes at Beyoncé’s recent forays into the genre. Yet, in the course of it, she denounces genre as a capitalist scheme to monetize art and enforce racism. She writes:

Genre… is a product of capitalism, and people with access to power create it, control it, and maintain it in order to commoditise art. In the 1920s, recording industry executives quickly realised that in order to maximise record sales, they needed to market them. In order to market them, they needed to create categories where they could reduce the totality of the American experience to a few buzzwords, and because this is the US, our cultural lenses are conditioned to project racial categories on to everything.

Surely genre can be an imposition of record labels to market music. Sometimes that is explicit. The genre world music, initially at least, was just a catch-all category agreed upon by record labels to sell albums from around the world that didn’t fit into an existing sales category. Our genre categories have been significantly shaped both by the recording industry and by services like Billboard that rank music in genre-segregated lists.

Nevertheless, the rise of recorded music did not just create an opportunity for the music industry. It also created a challenge for music listeners. There’s just too much music. Nobody can listen to everything, and most of us wouldn’t want to even if we could.

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It’s been a while since I had an addition to my list of bespoke fallacies, one of the oldest features of my website.1 This week, however, I came across the lovely neosemantic fallacy. Joshua Habgood-Coote, who attributes the label to Thi Nguyen, describes it as “the magic of neologisms, which encourage [one] to infer that a new word refers to a new kind of thing.”

Cover shift

On his blog, Brad Skow discusses Theodore Gracyk’s account of cover songs. He gives a fair summary of Gracyk’s view, according to which a version is only a cover if reference to the canonical version is part of its artistic content. So (on this view) you can only appreciate a cover by taking into account the canonical version. In contrast with common usage, Gracyk holds that any version which lacks this referential structure is a remake instead of a cover.1

With all that in place, Skow notes that Taylor Swift’s remakes of her own work seem designed to efface the originals rather than refer to them. So he suggests we might call them anti-covers.2

The problem is that one familiar function of so-called covers has been to crowd another recorded version out of the market. This is often given as an explanation for why the word cover was used in the first place: They were meant to cover over or cover up the originals.3

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